Review: The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, a new twist on the idea of fairy tales and princesses! Chainani blends humor and cliche with a fresh setting and plot. In Agatha and Sophie’s world, children are kidnapped by the School Master and taken to a school that trains them to either be good or evil. Blond, fair Sophie is thrilled to be one of the kidnapped kids from her town. Her dark, brooding friend Agatha is taken as well, but both girls are surprised when Sophie is sent to the School for Evil instead of the School for Good. What ensues is a bumbling adventure through both Good and Evil’s campuses that at once embraces and mocks the cliches of traditional fairy tales. Now the two friends have been pitted against one another in the ages-old good vs. evil battle and the only thing that’s certain is it will be one wild competition. Fairies as campus guards, a two-headed dog/wolf as bickering professors, and the mysterious School Master make for a delightfully adventurous and funny romp on a new path through familiar territory.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and just began the second book, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes. Polly Lee’s narration of the first book is brilliant; I keep hearing her voice in my head as I read the second.

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BRIDGE BOOK: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

LENGTH: 242 pages

PUBLISHER: Knopf Books for Young Readers

SOURCE: Netgalley

SUMMARY: A luminous retelling of the Snow Queen, this is the story of unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard who doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room.  He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen.  And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help.

As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested.  Along the way she learns more and more about the boy’s own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

BRIDGE: Foxlee’s book would be a great pairing when studying traditional literature or fables. The story seems loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and has elements of the Hero’s Journey as well. The book is not difficult to read and could be used as a whole-class text or in literature groups. It would be a great frame story to teach the elements of traditional literature and then let students break into groups to analyze more complex texts. This would also be a great text with which to study symbolism. The different story elements have definite symbolic significance with both obvious and more subtle symbols included. Teacher-directed analysis of the more obvious symbols could lead to small group analysis of the symbols that take a little more digging to unearth.

READERS: Fantasy fans and readers who enjoy the purity of childhood friendships will enjoy this book. This book will also appeal to readers who have a strong sense of right and wrong and want to see “good” win.

OTHER TEXTS: Readers who enjoy this book might also enjoy Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, or The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Cynical Sorcerers and Cruising Castles

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TITLE: Howl’s Moving Castle

AUTHOR: Diana Wynne Jones

LENGTH:  336 pages

PUBLISHER: Green Willow Books

SUMMARY: (via In the land of Ingary, such things as spells, invisible cloaks, and seven-league boots were everyday things. The Witch of the Waste was another matter.

After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch was about to terrorize the country again. So when a moving black castle, blowing dark smoke from its four thin turrets, appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls.

The Hatter sisters–Sophie, Lettie, and Martha–and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. But that was only the beginning.

In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, people and things are never quite what they seem. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? And what will happen to Sophie Hatter when she enters Howl’s castle?

BRIDGE: It seems I’m coming across a lot of books lately that lend themselves to studying fairy tales. This book would be a good bridge to traditional Grimm stories or other fairy tales. There are elements of Lewis Carrol and even Tolkein. Jones mocks these traditional fairy tale elements and it would be a good starting point for a discussion of satire and parody. Along with these elements, students could also study the use of humor and sarcasm in character development and the creation of character relationships.

READERS: Fans of fantasy and magic will enjoy this book. Readers who have a tast for sarcasm and parody will also enjoy this title. It has several levels of meaning and will appeal to middle level readers as well as high schoolers and adults.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book might also like Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, or Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Author Interview: Alethea Kontis

AUTHOR: Alethea Kontis

TITLE: Enchanted

Length: 329 pages

Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books

Release Date: 8 May 2012

How did the idea for Enchanted come to you?

The idea for Enchanted began as a contest challenge in my writers group (Codex Writers). Our stories had to be inspired by at least one of four “seeds”: “Fundevogel,” “The Princess and the Pea,” the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, and the nursery rhyme “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” I couldn’t choose between them, so I chose them all…as well as all every other fairy tale and nursery rhyme that was suggested.

In the past few years the YA genre has exploded and, short chapters have become a noticeable trend. Did your shorter chapters come about organically or were they created during editing?

The first draft of Enchanted originally contained chapters with an average of 5000 words. I had to cut over 30,000 words before the final draft, but the number of chapters never changed.

What did you come up with first: the characters or the world?

Mmmm…hard to say. I definitely fleshed out the characters first, but they had always lived in a Fairy Tale Land. Part of me has lived in Fairy Tale Land all my life.

Different fairy tales are blended into Sunday and Rumbold’s story? How did you keep everything straight?

My friend Denny hates the word “organic,” but unfortunately I must use it here. When you have a giant brain full of fairy tales (like I do) and you start to write a story, it just makes sense that Cinderella originally met her prince when he was a frog, and that he gave her the golden ball because her brother traded the cow for magic beans. The fairy tale logic flows from one step to another, organically onto the page. I am saved from having to “keep them straight” because the point of Enchanted is that all the fairy tales we know now were jumbled to begin with.

Which fairy tale was the genesis for the idea behind Enchanted?

See question #1 — but personally, I’ve always had an issue with Cinderella. I never bought the true love bit, because they knew NOTHING about each other before that ball. She was just another pretty face in a pretty dress. They had to have met before, somehow…and yet in a strange enough way that seeing her at the ball was like seeing her for the first time. When tied into “The Frog Prince” tale, it just made perfect sense! (To me, anyway.)

Do you have any desire to continue Sunday’s or another character’s story?

Oh, yes. I fully intend to write about all the sisters, backwards through the week. I am fairly chomping at the bit to get to Monday.

Writing Questions

Have you always been a writer? If not, when and why did you start?

I started writing and acting right about the same time — at the age of 8. I began writing my first novel in the 7th grade. I was 11.

Do you have a particular writing schedule or routine? Could you briefly describe it?

My friend Nancy Fulda and I were just speaking about this last night! On a perfect day, I go to the gym in the morning when Joe takes the girls to school (I do housework like dishes & laundry while they’re getting ready). I come home and write fiction until Joe gets home from work around 3:30. I take a break when we get the girls, and then chill out and work on bloggy/internet stuff while we watch TV or the girls do their homework.

Not every day is a perfect day…but this is what I strive for.

Where do you write? Why?

I write wherever I can, on whatever’s available. I write on postcards & receipts & envelopes and post-its and the backs of comic books…and notebooks, if the one I carry with me all the time isn’t full yet. I write in the car, and in the shower, and even while I’m asleep. During my official “writing time” I’m usually on the couch or on the porch…our place isn’t big enough for me to have much of an office. Yet.

What is the hardest part of drafting for you?

Putting my Butt in the Chair. I am so distractible. But I’m not ADD–my brain is just going that fast, trying to do everything at once.

How did you originally come to be published? (long road or short?)

Publishing was a short road. (A friend submitted AlphaOops: The Day Went First for me — I’m lucky my name was even on the document!). Publishing a novel was a long, windy & adventurous road…and a much longer answer than this interview would allow.

How do you handle criticism/rejection/bad reviews?

Rejection used to make me cry in a puddle on the floor. It was so heartbreaking and personal. But eventually, sad as it sounds, you lose the romance and see everything as a challenge to take on headfirst. I actually love reading bloggers’ reviews and commenting, thanking them for reading my book at all in the first place. Sometimes, completely random strangers can make really good points or say things that really inspire you.

What is one part of writing craft every aspiring author ought to thoroughly understand?

You are not a writer if you are not writing. Few problems authors have are solved by less writing. Just never stop.

Do you read other authors’ books while you have a work in progress? Why or why not?

I do — I am the official book reviewer for the online magazine Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. The first thing that fell to the wayside when I started writing full time was reading. I wanted to have a way to force myself to read 2 or 3 books a month in the genre I love and grew up in, and taking that job was the perfect solution. I like having an excuse to drop everything and read my friends’ books (or anything by Jude Deveraux) , while staying abreast of trends in the industry.

What is the most rewarding part of writing?

The stories I tell myself in bed at night when I’m falling asleep. They are so wonderful and vivid now.

Are any of the characters or MC modeled after real people?

I am in all of them, of course, and some take elements of other people, like names or hair color or attitude…but there is no one character that I have directly taken out of real life and stuck on the page without…monkeying with it first.

What has been your favorite part of the book launch?

My favorite part was having a chance to perform with Katherine Kellgren, my audiobook reader. She lives in NYC, and she agreed to do the scene with me. We did not rehearse it…and I was SO nervous that I would sound terrible next to her AMAZINGNESS. I started off shaky, but once Katy jumped in everything just fell into place, like all those impromptu Christmas shows we kids on the Court used to perform back in the day. We brought the house down. My friend Mary got the whole thing on her phone (thank you, Mary!!) — you can watch it here:

“Funner” Questions

  • PBJ or ham & cheese?  Sushi
  • Coffee or tea?  Earl Grey, hot
  • Summer or Winter? Spring
  • Typing or longhand? Longhand
  • Which comes first: plot or character? Character
  • Emails or letters? I miss letters.
  • Sugary or salty treats?  Salty
  • Dogs or cats? My teddy bear, Charlie
  • Indoors or outdoors? Outdoors!
  • Beer or wine? Earl Grey, hot
  • Mac or PC? Both, as long as there’s one handy.
  • Outline or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants? A little of both. The car has to have a direction to go in, even if you’re not sure of the destination.
  • Coke or Pepsi? Earl Grey, hot

You can buy Enchanted NOW! Visit your local bookstore IMMEDIATELY!

Take a look at my previous review of Enchanted.

Find Alethea Kontis at the following locations:

Twitter: @AletheaKontis


Happy Book Birthday to ENCHANTED by Alethea Kontis!

It isn’t easy being the overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories. Then she meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, and the two become friends.

Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Prince Rumbold—a man Sunday’s family despises. The prince hopes Sunday will love him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo, and it soon becomes clear that twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers.

Click the image to order your copy today.

Look for an exclusive interview with the author coming soon!

Cyborg Cinderella Creates Catastrophe

TITLE: Cinder

AUTHOR: Marissa Meyer

LENGTH: 400 pages

SUMMARY: (via Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

BRIDGE: Teachers could use this book to teach fables, fairy tales, and allegory. Using this book in lit circles with other adapted, well-known stories would be easy. It could be paired with its namesake Cinderella or with a completely different allegory like Animal Farm to compare the allegorical structure. In addition, looking at the elements of a fairy tale from the original Cinderella and analyzing how Meyer used those elements with her futuristic setting and documenting the fun twists on the original fairy tale would be a good analysis lesson. This book could also be used in a science class to discuss the dynamics of creating cyborgs and to analyze the technology used in the book. How probable is it that this technology will exist? Does some of it ALREADY exist? History classes could use this book to analyze diplomacy and compare the negotiations with the Lunar Queen to similar marriage negotiations of the past. In addition, there is a definite caste system/segregation of society between the humans and the cyborgs. Students could look at other caste systems and countries where segregation and discrimination have been seen or are still being seen to do comparisons. And the ethics surrounding the use of cyborgs as test subjects could spark some serious debate.

READERS: This book will appeal to fans of science fiction but will also appeal to readers who enjoy a good identity story with a bit of romance mixed in. The love interest part of the story does not overwhelm the plot and is nicely done.  While more discerning readers will figure out one of the major plot points early on, curiosity about the resolution will carry the reader to finish the book. Readers who enjoy strong protagonists will cheer for Cinder and grind their teeth in frustration with her when the obstacles appear. Fans of audiobooks will enjoy the narration in this one.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who like this book will also enjoy Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Host by Stephenie Meyer, and The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson.